Dec 19 2019

How Digital Twins of Smart Cities Will Develop

Digital twin technology can help cities model flood risks and optimize renewable energy and traffic flows.

Cities need to evolve their approaches to technology as they continue to face challenges such as congestion, pollution and crime, as well as new threats such as cyberattacks, climate change, and other emerging issues. 

“This new reality requires new approaches, leveraging a range of new technologies to create true strategy shifts,” said Dominique Bonte, vice president for end markets at ABI Research, in a statement.

One of the strategic shifts ABI identified in a recently released white paper, “5 Ways Smart Cities Are Getting Smarter,” that can help cities push ahead on smart city initiatives is the use of digital twin technology. Digital twins combine numerous technologies to create full-scale digital versions of real-world objects and processes, changing how cities are designed, monitored and managed.

Digital twins are a virtual representation of a physical product or manufacturing process and the performance of that part, asset or process. Put simply, a digital twin is a digital or virtual model of a real-world object that replicates its performance, allowing the creator of the digital twin to determine where the asset — a jet engine, a turbine, a vehicle, etc. — performs well and where it performs poorly.

Microsoft, Siemens, IBM and Dassault Systemes are some of the key players when it comes to digital twin technologies. 

ABI refers to digital twins as “holistic, real-time modeling (digital twins of entire cities), and the automated, generative design of urban environments, both brownfield and greenfield.” 

“Modeling cities and optimizing operations through digital twins is great; designing them from scratch with Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools is better,” Bonte said. 

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how smart cities are deploying edge computing.

How Cities Can Benefit from Digital Twin Technology

Digital twin technology is spreading from its traditional industrial origins, ABI notes, to the smart city marketplace “where it allows a more holistic approach in terms of cross-vertical optimization of the design, management, and operation of urban infrastructure.”

There are numerous benefits to digital twin technology in the smart city environment, including “operational cost savings, energy efficiencies, increased resilience, improved sustainability, and a positive impact on economic growth.” 

Digital twins include “spatial modeling of the built environment, mathematical models of electric and mechanical systems, and real-time sensor data crowdsourced” from Internet of Things platforms.

Digital twins can help city IT leaders with everything from flood risk modeling to the optimization of renewable energy and traffic flows, occupancy tracking and evacuation simulations, and the generative design of city extensions.

Bonte tells FutureIoT that digital twins “won’t be a single Uber-like digital twin for an entire city but rather an aggregation and integration of domain-specific digital twins for systems like smart buildings, traffic infrastructure, energy grids, and water management.”

Cities that have deployed digital twins include Boston, New York, Singapore and Stockholm, says FutureIoT. 

FutureIoT notes that “challenges for adoption remain, mainly related to the complexity of city-wide modelling and the lack of standards supporting cross-vertical data exchange.”

Other challenges include a lack awareness about benefits and return on investment, commercialization challenges connected to the siloed nature of city governments, and concerns about consumer privacy and cybersecurity.

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